I often receive emails from college or grad school students who have discovered the field of occupational therapy and are freaking out for two reasons: 1) they are super excited about this new potential career and 2) they are really nervous and confused about whether they will need to change their major in order to pursue a career in occupational therapy because they are already sooooo far into their educational career. These types of emails have come from students studying to become nurses, marriage and family therapists, business people, and more.
If this type of scenario applies to you or someone you know, get ready!
Here are some things to know and think about when considering the transition to occupational therapy from another major or educational path:
I don’t believe any previous undergraduate major or educational training was a “mistake” when it comes to preparing for a career in occupational therapy. Your past experiences shape and mold you in order to help you become a unique and powerful occupational therapy practitioner, so please don’t be discouraged!
If you feel like you are too far into your education to change your mind, change your major, change your path, change your plans, change everything . . . STOP. Take a breath. Now take another one. And another one.
You are not the first student to have changed their mind or discovered what they really want to do late in their college experience. You are not alone. And you will survive!
First, try to reflect on what it was about your previous experiences and educational path that made you realize this isn’t the road you want to take anymore. Is it a personality thing? A financial thing? A life flexibility thing? A personal values thing? A family planning thing? A something-happened-in-my-life-that-changed-my-perspective-on-everything thing? Take some time to really hash this out and get to the bottom of it.
Then, think about why you feel occupational therapy is the new path you want to pursue. Have you really looked into it? Is this a fleeting whim? Do you have a personal mission statement and OT just seems to fit with it?
Next, start writing things down. Your reflections about your previous path. Your feelings about moving forward with occupational therapy. Your fears and excitement about making a change. Your personal mission statement (and if you don’t have one, now would be a good time to start thinking about one!). If you’re not one to write things down, then talk it through with someone you trust. And if you’re not one to write things down or talk through things like this with people, then process through it with yourself during your best “thinking times” of day (you know, while walking, running, biking, swimming, cooking, showering, crafting, or simply lying down in a quiet room). Once you’ve done that, guess what? You have just started creating bullet points of what might someday be part of your application/essay for OT/OTA school. Check that off the list!
Finally, once you feel you’ve processed through this enough to be comfortable taking the next step forward, it would probably be a good idea to schedule a meeting with an academic/career counselor at your school. He or she can then help guide you as it relates to the logistics of changing or adding a major or minor (if necessary), finding out specific prerequisites for various OT schools, adding in or changing classes to fulfill OT prerequisites (again, only if necessary), and generally pointing you in the right direction.
Yes, changing your mind late in your education might make things more difficult. It might frustrate you. It might frustrate or even disappoint some family or friends. It could extend your undergraduate experience and mean you have to deal with all the realities that come with that (finances, housing, later graduation date, etc.). But if you have gone through the previously mentioned steps to process through and plan for the change . . . if you are confident this is the direction you need to go . . . if you feel called to pursue a career in occupational therapy . . . don’t you think the current challenges that come with change will be worth it in the long run?
This post is an excerpt adapted from my new FREE e-book I co-authored with Abby Brayton-Chung, entitled The Most Important Things You Need to Know about Becoming an Occupational Therapy Practitioner: A Guide for Prospective Students.
And share these tips, plus the link to the e-book, using #OTguide on your social media!